Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Give Meaning

On Christmas day, I posted about a site called "Changing the Present". Knowing that not everyone is confident that charitable donations accomplish anything but padding someone else's wallet, I included a link to Charity Navigator for those who might wish to investigate further.

The problem with Charity Navigator is that they evaluate U.S. charities only. And even in that, not everyone is convinced as to how useful they are. Edit: Another option which hadn't occured to me when I began writing this post is Give.org. I don't know if they are considered reliable, but they are a Better Business Bureau website.

I looked for something similar in Canada but came up empty. Until later that day! Preparing to check my Yahoo e-mail inbox, the following was the highlighted story on Yahoo News:

VICTORIA - The six-figure income, the prestigious job at Apple, the status of being a teenage Internet whiz kid and the endless good times wore thin and wore out Victoria-born Tom Williams.

He was 25 years old and having an early mid-life crisis.

Meaning had been sucked from his life, says Williams, so he dumped his job, salary and lifestyle and started selling philanthropy online to make his world real again.

But he couldn't bury his entrepreneurial gifts and quickly discovered his keen marketing skills are handy tools when it comes to the charity game - a business, he believes, badly in need of a shake-up.

"Absolutely, and it's high time," Williams said recently in Victoria. "Frankly, the issues are that we don't know where our money is going.

"The big charities are continuing to get a disproportionately large amount of donor dollars and the smaller organizations who are sometimes doing grassroots work in communities across the country and other ones, are starved for cash, having to literally consider shutting down their operations," he said.

In 2004, Williams returned to British Columbia and launched GiveMeaning.com. He is the chief executive officer.

He believes his online charity can change the charity industry, change lives. It changed his.

"Never had I had more energy or passion," Williams said.

The site is here. You can click on the "Important Issues" link under "browse" to locate causes regionally.

Now they don't evaluate charities, as such, but...

GiveMeaning™ Projects all have tangible, measurable charitable goals, and only registered charities may be chosen to carry out those goals. When you donate at GiveMeaning.com, you have the comfort of knowing:

* 100% of all money donated goes directly to charity
* you will receive a tax receipt, as permissible by law (in the U.S. and Canada)
* you can measure your ‘Return on Generosity’ by viewing progress updates and more on each Project’s webpage
* your personal information will never be shared, and you will never be spammed – by us, or anyone

And, should a Project target not be met, we will give you the option of re–allocating your donation to another Project. When you donate to a GiveMeaning Project, you always have choice and will always know what happens to your money.

That last bit is interesting. It would appear then that the funds are actually not distributed unless the goal is reached? I need to look over the site more thouroughly, but I like the sounds of it on the surface.


Tom Williams said...

Thanks for posting this. To answer your question about what happens if a goal isn't reached, the first thing we do is ask the project founder if a smaller goal can be accomplished with the funds already raised.

If they can't, then we return each donor's money to their account at GiveMeaning allowing them to choose a different project to give to.

Thanks for the mention!

T.H.I.T. said...

And thank you for the clarification!

Tom Newman said...

Excerpt of article in The Vancouver Sun newspaper of January 19, 2008:


During the year ending Sept. 30, 2006, GiveMeaning received $234,643 in donations for which it gave tax receipts, according to a financial statement filed with Canada Revenue Agency. Tom Williams said these are largely donations from individuals.

It received another $730,350 from other registered charities. Williams said these donations were made specifically to pay GiveMeaning's overhead.

He refused to identify any of these donors. I found this strange: My sense is that, while some donors request anonymity, most registered charities or foundations publicly report where they are placing their money, not so much for recognition as for transparency.

More generally, I do not understand why certain undisclosed charities would give money to pay overhead for what is essentially a charitable conduit.

In the case of GiveMeaning, that overhead is disproportionately large. Of the $982,705 in total donations it received (and issued tax receipts for), GiveMeaning spent $666,070, or 68 per cent, on administrative expenses.

Those expenses included $199,043 for professional and consulting fees; $153,646 for salaries, wages and benefits; $28,433 for advertising and promotion; and $24,019 for travel.

I asked Williams whether he receives a salary. Well, yes, $90,000 per year. And his wife, country singer Jessie Farrell, who works part-time for the foundation "when she can," gets $30,000. So together they collect $120,000 per year, plus expenses.

After subtracting overhead costs, just over $300,000 was available for charitable purposes in 2006, but only $172,000 was actually given to charities (the remainder is still on the foundation's books). That $172,000 represents just 17.5 per cent of total donations.

But that's not the end of it. Many of the charities that receive money have their own overhead. So the net amount available for true charitable purposes is even less.

Williams insists that, whenever a person gives money for a particular charity, 100 per of that money gets to the named beneficiary. That may be true, but it does not mitigate the fact that the vast majority of the overall money collected during 2006 went to administration.

Williams says this was due largely to start-up costs: "Yes, we have spent more than we have given away. Just like any other start-up business, it takes time to get profitable," he said.

He said the financial return for the year ending Sept. 30, 2007, which is just now being filed, will show a greater percentage of overall donations going to charity. We shall see.

The Vancouver Sun January 19, 2008